Repair Shop Owner Who Supposedly Had Hunter Biden's Laptop Sues Twitter For Defamation… Has Lawsuit Tossed The Same Day
from the about-that... dept
As basically a million people mentioned to me, on Monday, John Paul Mac Isaac, computer repair shop owner, sued Twitter for defamation. You may recall his name as the computer repair shop guy who allegedly had Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, which later became a NY Post story. That story then became a content moderation story, as both Twitter and Facebook sought to limit the spread of the story. In Twitter’s case, the company claimed that it violated the social media site’s policy against linking to “hacked materials.”
As we noted at the time, this Twitter policy had been in place for a while and was already controversial in how it had shut down accounts that were clearly doing journalism based on hacked documents. Twitter later changed its policy regarding hacked materials, in large part due to the controversy over this story.
When I was first pointed to the lawsuit, I assumed that like nearly all defamation lawsuits against Twitter, it was actually about posts by users (which would be clearly barred by Section 230). The lawsuit is ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in a different way. Isaac was not suing over user speech on Twitter, but over Twitter’s decision to refer to that material as “hacked,” which he claimed defamed his reputation, and made people think he was a hacker.
Defendant’s Distribution of Hacked Materials Policy (“Hacked Materials Policy”) defines a “hack” as “an intrusion or access of a computer, network, or electronic device that was unauthorized or exceeded authorized access….
The Hacked Materials Policy further defines “hacked materials” as “information obtained through a hack.”
Defendant’s actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to the world that Plaintiff is a hacker.
According to Merriam-Webster, a “hacker” is “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system.”
The term “hacker” is widely viewed as disparaging, particularly when said about someone who owns a computer repair business.
Plaintiff is not a hacker and the information obtained from the computer does not hacked materials because Plaintiff lawfully gained access to the computer, first with the permission of its owner, BIDEN, and then, after BIDEN failed to retrieve the hard drive despite Plaintiff’s requests, in accordance with the Mac Shop’s abandoned property policy.
Plaintiff, as a direct result of Defendant’s actions and statements, is now widely considered a hacker….
So… there’s a lot to unpack here, but basically none of this makes sense. As the complaint itself notes, Twitter has a very broad definition of hacked materials, and at no point suggested that Isaac himself was a “hacker.” The policy was applied to the materials, which Twitter (for good reasons) deemed to have been private material that was not meant for public consumption. Also, if your defamation complaint is focusing on a dictionary definition, you’re probably already in trouble. And, to make matters worse, the complaint leaves out the other definitions of “hacker” in the Merriam-Webster definition, including the one directly above the definition they cited (they chose the 4th one), which also says a hacker can be “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer” which seems like a positive thing for a computer repair shop owner.
But, even beyond that… the whole thrust of the lawsuit is garbage. About the only thing going for it is the fact that it’s not trying to hold Twitter liable for the speech of a user. Of course, even though it is actually focused (obliquely) on Twitter’s own speech, the company still might be protected by Section 230, because the speech in question was part of Twitter’s efforts to moderate — meaning that it might be a rare case where Section 230’s infamous (c)(2) clause mattered. But even without Section 230, Twitter’s speech here would be protected under the 1st Amendment.
Either way, for now at least, none of this matters, because the lawsuit was tossed out hours later for jurisdictional issues. For a case to be in federal court over state law issues (defamation is a state law), it has to have diversity (meaning all of the parties need to be in different states). However, here, both Isaac and Twitter are technically in Delaware (Twitter is registered as a Delaware company). Thus, no diversity, and no jurisdiction in federal court:
The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a resident of Delaware and that Defendant is a Delaware corporation ?with an office in Dade County, Florida.?… The sole basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship…. For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), ?all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants.?… Thus, accepting the Complaint?s allegations as true, the Complaint fails to allege complete diversity. Therefore, the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action.
It’s possible that Isaac can refile in state court. Or he could try to claim diversity by arguing that Twitter is really a California based company (given that’s where its headquarters are). The statement about it having offices in Florida is just… weird and unimportant. But even if refiled somehow, this case is a losing proposition and a clear SLAPP suit.